First Lesson: Acts 5: 27-32
Responsive Reading: Psalm 118: 14-29
Second Lesson: Revelation 1: 4-8
Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I was talking to a congregation member this week that was in the midst of what sounded like the worst week ever. Sunday afternoon, backing out of the driveway he hit his friend’s truck. Monday, he had a flat tire on the same truck causing him to be late for an important commitment. Wednesday, he had to put his dog to sleep. He had people mad at him for what seemed like a whole host of reasons. Everyone here has probably had days or even weeks like this.
These incidents do raise the question of “How should we respond to periods in our lives that are nothing but one trial after another?” How can we bounce back to being people of hope in the midst of our greatest personal despair?
Guy Winch tells the following story. A woman had recently gone through a painful divorce after twenty years of marriage. The woman works on herself emotionally to the point where she can put herself back on the dating market. She goes online and meets a gentleman. The guy appears to be a great catch: he was good-looking, successful, seemed nice, and appears to be into her.
The potentially happy couple agrees to go on a date. The woman spends the next week nervous with excitement. She picks out the perfect dress. She sits in front of the mirror longer than she had in quite some time to look her absolute best. She shows up for the date. She and the man make conversation for about 10 minutes when the man stands up and says “I’m not interested.” He walks away, and she sits at the restaurant so hurt that she couldn’t move. Every thought that began to consume her mind was about the painful event that she had just witnessed.
What I want you to do this morning is picture this woman’s emotions, and now I want you to imagine Thomas as he tries to recover from Holy Week. Thomas had gone to Jerusalem with the highest of hopes only to see the one whom he looked up to like no one else suffer betrayal and death. Thomas probably had days sitting around feeling numb.
As I talk about every year when I preach on this text, I believe that we get Thomas wrong as a Biblical character. Thomas’ nickname for many people seems entirely negative “Doubting Thomas”. Thomas gets a bad rap because we would never refer to Peter as “Cowardly Peter” even as he denies knowing Jesus three times upon his arrest. Peter is thought to be a hero of the church, whereas Thomas’ role in the story is to receive his nickname.
What we must remember as we consider Thomas’ role in the Jesus story is that the Disciples were not superheroes of the Christian faith. The Disciples perhaps were more average then we inevitability care to admit. Thomas had been a first-hand witness to the raising of Lazarus, yet Thomas still did not believe that Jesus could also rise from the dead. Thomas was a skeptic upon hearing the other disciples’ claims. I do wonder if how different our inevitability our response would be then Thomas’ upon hearing that Jesus was now alive.
Writer Annie Lamott makes the following comment: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty”.
It is very rarely in human nature to just believe what someone tells us. Perhaps this is why the 22nd verse of the book of Jude makes sense “Have Mercy on those who doubt”. Ultimately in Thomas’ doubt, he was able to find meaning. Thomas was able to see the hands of his Savior. So that the words of Isaiah 53 finally could make sense by his wounds we are healed. We are healed of our sin so that a new creation may emerge out of resurrection. It is often in our setbacks that we receive new life.
This week, I came across the story of Adam Carlson. Adam Carlson wanted more than anything else in life to play Goalie on the Edina High School Hockey team. As a sophomore, Adam Carlson was cut from the Junior Varsity team. He takes his junior season off from hockey with every intention of making the varsity team as a senior only to get cut again. There were many days when Carlson believed that he should just give up “hockey” to either focus on school work or baseball. Carlson never gave up hope! Carlson after high school played three years of junior hockey starting at the very bottom rung. Mercyhurst University discovers Carlson while playing juniors. One year of playing Goalie at Mercyhurst leads to Carlson receiving a contract with the Washington Capitols NHL Team.
So perhaps it can be said about Thomas’ story that his persistence to accept scientific evidence “Reach out your hand and put it on my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas would soon see that the universe would not function according to his realities, but rather it would now operate according to the realities of Resurrection. Thomas’ life was going to change every day moving forward because of it.
On Friday, I made a trip down to Chisago City to see Grandma. Every visit with Grandma is the same. Grandma complains about the aides; she uses a lot of church inappropriate language, and Grandma vows that she is going to get up out of her wheelchair, tell everyone off at that nursing home, and move to California. I can predict these things walking in the door. As I hear Grandma describe what is going to happen, it all sounds so “unreasonable.” I see a 92-year-old woman, one-hundred pounds overweight that hasn’t walked well for years. When Grandma claims that she is going to be soon walking around on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (I can’t at the moment believe it). I compare Grandma though to other people that I visit. I often visit with people especially in nursing homes that see no hope of recovery. These people are probably reasonable like Thomas was being reasonable. The thing about Resurrection though is it not reasonable in the slightest. Resurrection is the most unbelievable promise that can be proclaimed in our presence of the dead becoming alive once again. I don’t know how many years that I’ll have Grandma still in my life. I know I’ll be a lot more boring preacher when she leaves this earth behind. What my hope is it that she never gives up on Resurrection coming to her life. I hope that she stays just as feisty even if not quite as foul-mouthed as she as long as she has breath. I never want Grandma to doubt the hope of Resurrection coming true. Because as the Lord showed Thomas today, I never want her or anyone to lose the hope that Resurrections can and will take place. Resurrection will soon change everything regarding our present existence.
I want to close this morning by reflecting upon a Ted Talk given by a lady named Debra Jarvis. Debra Jarvis was a long-time Hospice Chaplain, who in 2005 receives a diagnosis of breast cancer. Jarvis had gone from comforting patients to being a patient. Jarvis’ hospital experience gave her a whole new outlook on life. Jarvis came to learn of personal hope that she never knew that she had previously. For Jarvis’ this hope was that as traumatic as her cancer diagnosis was, it would not define her as a person going forward. She came to realize that there are only two things we can do in the midst of miserable experiences: we can wallow in despair (throw up our hands saying it’s all over), or we can find meaning. She came to realize that the real significance of the cross is that in any resurrection story there needs to be death. Jesus lay in the tomb for thirty-six hours. Thomas had gone home and given up. Once Thomas encountered the Risen Lord in our lesson, a new chapter in Thomas’ life was born. Thomas saw healing was possible, even from his greatest of personal pains and sorrows. The thing about Thomas is that his doubt would not define him every day going forward. Thomas after seeing Jesus’ hands becomes one of the Early Church’s greatest leaders traveling all the way to India to spread the Gospel.
In the words of Oliver O’Donovan, we have heard the platitudes all before “There’s a rainbow after every storm.” “When winter comes spring can’t be far behind.” These things are always easy to say in a given moment. Thomas though is being given something more challenging and more concrete to be asked to believe. Thomas is being asked to confess that his whole way of viewing sin, and death now be changed because Jesus has in fact been raised from the dead. Thomas is being asked to “believe” the seemingly unbelievable. Nearly everyone would have the same response as Thomas to this reality hence the response. What Thomas’ story though and Jesus’ response remind us is that doubt is not fatal to faith. Everyone has their doubts. Resurrection is the biggest, toughest, and most important question of our faith. Whereas Thomas had his doubts that it could all be true, once in Jesus’ presence, he made the boldest faith claim of all “My Lord and My God.” You truly are alive once again! Amen
 Winch, Guy. “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.” Ted Talk (www.ted.com). 16.Feb.2015. Web. Mar.29.2016.
 Winch, Guy. “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.”
 Winch, Guy. “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.”
 Isaiah 53:5.
 Walsh, Paul. “Grateful for being cut twice in Edina HS tryouts, goaliesigns NHL deal.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 29. Mar.2016. Web. Mar.29.2016.
 Walsh, Paul. “Grateful for being cut twice in Edina HS tryouts, goaliesigns NHL deal.”
 John 20:28
 Jarvis, Debra. “Yes, I survived cancer. But that doesn’t define me.”. Ted Talks (www.ted.com). 2014. Oct. Web. Mar.27.2016.
 Jarvis, Debra. “Yes, I survived cancer. But that doesn’t define me.”
 O’Donovan, Oliver. “In Defense of Doubting Thomas”. ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation): Religion and Ethics. 25.Mar.2016. Web. Mar.29.2016.
 O’Donovan, Oliver. “In Defense of Doubting Thomas”.
 John 20:28